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The Philosophy of Causation

Jean-Marie Chevalier , Benoit Gaultier et  Claudine tiercelin
p. 48
Cet article est une traduction de :
La philosophie de la causalité

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 38, June 2014

Texte intégral

1Prof. Claudine Tiercelin’s seminar took the form of a symposium on causation, which was held on 5 and 6 December 2013. This international symposium in English, titled “Causation: New Prospects”, bore witness to the rapid growth of the philosophy of causation.

Movements of the air as it encounters a sloping curved surface, chronophotograph on a fixed plate, Étienne-Jules Marey, 1901, Collège de France Archives

2Since the early 1970s, this expansion has largely been informed by the significant revival of metaphysics, which has gone hand in hand with the extension of the metaphysics of the laws of nature, of modality, of probability and of properties. One of the noteworthy characteristics of the current philosophical period, which the symposium highlighted, is the entanglement of the most promising developments in these various fields – and in the philosophy of causation in particular. By contrast, the preceding period was characterized by hyper-specialized research.

3It seems that the full importance of the rapid growth of the philosophy of causation is not always seen favourably in France. Instead, we cling to the idea that the philosophy of causation can be more or less summed up by the following two approaches. This first amounts to pointing out the Humian critique of the idea of causal connection, and to considering this critique as definitive (albeit relatively superficial). The second consists in reviewing Kant’s criticist view, which sees the movement inaugurated by Hume as fully developed and rendered philosophically profound; in arguing that twentieth-century science established the intrinsic indeterminacy of the ultimate nature of reality; and finally in claiming that, between this supposed lesson of science in the past century and a position such as Kant’s (that we hardly conceive of impugning), a relationship exists such that the latter is validated (rather than challenged) by the former.

4Yet other, particularly compelling questions were addressed during these two days. First, what is the metaphysical nature of the connection between a cause C and its effect E? Is it a statistical correlation, a physical process, a relationship of counterfactual dependence, or a nomological subsumption? And then, of what does the metaphysical nature of causal relata consist? Are we looking at facts, events, objects, and properties? Can absences, omissions and non-occurrences be considered as real causes?

5Another fundamental aim of the philosophy of causation is to determine the criteria used to identify a cause, and to distinguish it from the mere conditions determining the realization of a certain effect. Can we argue that a cause suffices to produce its effect, while a condition of the effect is simply necessary for its occurrence? Does the notion of causal connection encompass that of the necessitation of an effect? The problem is particularly acute in the case of an undetermined occurrence of the effect, in so far as it would not have the sufficient conditions. Would it for all that be devoid of a cause? Is a probabilistic approach defendable? Does the problem of “pre-emption” not preclude it?

6Causation is also involved in science and philosophy for the purpose of explanation. Does giving a causal explanation amount to identifying a cause or not? Or could an effect be explained causally without such an event being held to be its real cause? Does our concept of causation encompass two fundamentally distinct ideas: that of a relationship of counterfactual dependence; and that of a physical or mechanistic production? And must there be temporal priority of the cause on the effect?

7At the symposium, Huw Price (Trinity College, University of Cambridge) applied his skills in the philosophy of time to the elucidation of quantum causation. A discussion was then held between the leading specialists of the metaphysics of causation, Laurie A. Paul (University of North Carolina), Helen Beebee (University of Manchester), Sarah Bernstein (Duke University), Christopher Hitchcock (California Institute of Technology), Michael Strevens (New York University), Paul Noordhof (University of York) and Brad Weslake (University of Rochester). Thomas Pradeu (Paris-Sorbonne University) explored the concept of causation in biology, Stephen Mumford (University of Nottingham) and Claudine Tiercelin defended two conceptions of a dispositionalist approach to causes, and James Woodward (University of Pittsburgh), the founder of the interventionist theory of causation, responded to objections formulated against his historical model.

8Whether the idea of causation is, or not, as Russell wrote “a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the [British] monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm”, the symposium brought to light the fact that one first has to be able to answer the type of question mentioned above, for this type of verdict to be made, and that the core of philosophical work on causation lies in the precise treatment of these questions.


Claudine Tiercelin, Collège de France

Causation in the Quantum World – A New Case for the

Paris Option?
Huw Price, Trinity College, University of Cambridge

Experience, Causal Productivity and the Temporal Arrow
Laurie A. Paul, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Possible Causation
Sara Bernstein, Duke University

Causal Reality: One Thing, Two Aspects
Michael Strevens, New York University

Understanding Causation by Way of Failure
Stephen Mumford, University of Nottingham

Causal Powers, Causal Relations and Causal Explanation
Claudine Tiercelin, Collège de France

Claudine Tiercelin, Collège de France

Development, Information and Causation
Thomas Pradeu, Paris-Sorbonne University

Difference-Making and Causal Exclusion: Is there Still
a Problem?
Helen Beebee, University of Manchester

Causation: New Arguments for the Counterfactual Theory
of Causation
Paul Noordhof, University of York

Why Think Causally?
Brad Weslake, University of Rochester

Actual Causation, Causal Paths, and Plans
Christopher Hitchcock, California Institute of Technology

Interventionism Defended: Methodology, Circularity,
and Truth Conditions
James Woodward, University of Pittsburgh

General Discussion
Claudine Tiercelin, Collège de France

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Légende Movements of the air as it encounters a sloping curved surface, chronophotograph on a fixed plate, Étienne-Jules Marey, 1901, Collège de France Archives
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Jean-Marie Chevalier , Benoit Gaultier et  Claudine tiercelin, « The Philosophy of Causation », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 28 septembre 2015, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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Jean-Marie Chevalier 

Benoit Gaultier

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 Claudine tiercelin

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